What the Law Says if You Leave Your Car Unlocked and Windows Down After Parking in NSW

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

Picture this: It’s Monday morning and you wake up ready for your vital morning coffee to get you through the day, only to realise you’ve run out of milk. The dissatisfaction is real.

So, you grab your car keys, jump behind the wheel, and drive down to the service station around the corner.

Desperate for your caffeine hit, you hurdle out of your car unbothered to lock it or wind up the windows and dash inside to grab a glorious carton of milk, the vision of that hot, creamy coffee now so lucid you can almost taste it.

You jump back in your car, thrilled that your morning milk-run was so swift you may even get back home before the kettle finishes boiling – only to discover that there’s a familiar-looking piece of paper stuck to your windscreen.

Ahh, you’ve been slapped with a fine.

But why, you wonder?

Because in that quick dash to grab your milk in which you didn’t lock your vehicle or close the car windows, believe it or not, you actually broke the law.

 

So, What’s the Deal with Leaving Your Car Unlocked and Windows Down Anyway?

WTF, you think to yourself.

Indeed, this seems to be yet another revenue-raising attempt – or so you can’t help but wonder given the obscure road rule you’ve broken that pretty much no one has even heard about.

The fact of the matter is, in NSW, according to regulation 213 of the Road Rules 2014, it’s an offence to leave a cark unlocked or with the windows down.

This regulation is recognised as “making a motor vehicle secure”, and a driver who breaches this rule can face an on-the-spot fine of $114.

 

Rule 213 (Road Rules 2014): Making a Motor Vehicle Secure, Explained

To summarise, in NSW, regulation 213 advises that a driver is guilty of an offence of not making a motor vehicle secure if they:

  1. Fail to switch off the vehicle’s engine before leaving it while they are at least three meters away from the closest part of the vehicle; or
  2. Fail to apply the parking brake effectively, or, if weather conditions (for example, snow) would prevent the effective operation of the parking brake, effectively restrain the motor vehicle’s movement in another way; or
  3. Fail to remove the ignition key before leaving the vehicle while they are at least three meters away from the closest part of the vehicle (including in circumstances where no one else is left in the vehicle or if there is a child under 16 years of age left in it); or
  4. Fail to secure the windows or fail to lock the doors of the vehicle before leaving the vehicle while they are at least three meters away from the closest part of the vehicle (including in circumstances where no one else is left in the vehicle.

 

Police Open Unlocked Cars as Part of “Make Motor Vehicle Secure” Rule Crackdown

If you thought leaving your car unlocked and windows down was a trivial matter in the grand scheme of road rules (don’t worry, we do too), then it may come as a shock to you to learn that in 2018, NSW Police initiated a crackdown on the road rule by opening random cars and checking for valuables.

While the obscure road rule is apparently rarely enforced, in July 2018, the police of north Wollongong decided it would remind residents of it and the fines for forgetfulness by checking car doors, without permission, in suburban streets.

Speaking to ABC News, Detective Inspector Brad Ainsworth explained, “We have been seeing how many cars are unlocked and then seeing what valuables are inside.”

“Unfortunately, it was pretty disappointing. We found 30 vehicles over a couple of nights unlocked and with property in them.”

Rather than fining the cars’ owners, police decided they would knock on the doors of residences or place a warning note on car windscreens telling them to be more careful.

The police also advised they don’t actually see the fines being used regularly.

“It would be a crook day when we have to do that, but that’s one of the options up our sleeve,” Detective Inspector Ainsworth said.

 

“Wrong Thing to Do”: NSW Council for Civil Liberties Expresses Anger over Patrol

Nevertheless, the patrol was quick to receive criticism, in particular from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties president at the time.

“I’m really concerned about police opening cars and having a look in and going through the contents,” president Stephen Blanks said.

“Police should not be doing that kind of thing without a warrant, and the mere fact a car is unlocked is not a cause for suspicion there’s something illegal in it.

“If they do that kind of activity, they will lose community support and they already require strong community support to do their job well.

“This kind of activity is just the wrong thing to do.”

Detective Inspector Ainsworth defended the decision, expressing police have a duty to be proactive in preventing crime.

He argued that by drawing attention to potential opportunities for criminals, they were, in fact, stopping possible break-ins before they happened.

“There have been lots of steal from motor vehicle offences in the [Illawarra’s] northern suburbs and by going out and having a look, we’re more than justified in doing that and unfortunately it’s proven right.

“Cars are in their driveway and on streets and people leave their wallet in there, credit cards get stolen and used with PayWave and the police are chasing up on those things, CCTV [footage], and it creates a lot of work.”

The Penalties for Failing to Secure Your Vehicle After Parking in NSW

As preposterous as it probably sounds, ultimately, if you don’t comply with regulation 213 of making your motor vehicle secure, there’s a chance you could end up being hit with a fine.

You will face an on-the-spot fine of $114 in NSW if as a driver of a vehicle, you move over 3 metres away from the vehicle, while no one else is in it, while the windows and doors are not secured and locked. (rule 213(5) Road Rules 2014 (NSW)).

This does not apply if the windows of the vehicle cannot be secured, or the doors of it cannot be locked.

According to rule 213(2) of the Road Rules 2014 (NSW), it is prohibited in NSW for a driver of a motor vehicle to stop and leave the vehicle without effectively applying the parking brakes. This also carries the same on the spot fine.

It’s also an offence carrying the same penalties for moving over 3 metres away from the vehicle without switching off the engine. (rule 213(3) Road Rules 2014 (NSW)).

And if you do get a fine and decide to contest your penalty in court, be aware that the court can impose a maximum penalty of a whopping $2,200 if you are found guilty or plead guilty, unless you end up convincing the Magistrate or Judge to sentence you with a section 10 non-conviction order.

In respect to rule 213(3), you will be exempt from complying with this rule in NSW if the your vehicle is used for purposes of delivering or collecting goods in circumstances that it require the driver to enter and leave the vehicle frequently- if the engine has to be kept running to operate the equipment used in relation to the vehicle that the same purpose. (rule 213-1 Road Rules 2014 (NSW).

So, to be safe, if you’re heading out for your morning milk-run, as petty as it may seem, lock your vehicle and secure your windows once you step out.

Oh, and on that, you may also want to think twice if you’re planning on drinking that milk behind the wheel. Dare we say it, there are road rules that also apply should you wish to eat or drink whilst driving in NSW.

Safe driving – and eating – to you all!

Please direct any questions to our 24/7 hotline on (02) 8606 2218.

We have traffic defence lawyers in Sydney and across the State who specialise in criminal & traffic law.

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